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SEO Newbie Mistake #1 and 2: Unfriendly Domain Names and Multiple Versions of the Same Site

SEO digest

Rand recently debuted his new series of Headsmacking Tips (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), which comprise of "Why didn't I think of that?" SEO suggestions, tricks, and recommendations. Today I came across a headsmacking revelation, but it wasn't of the "Why didn't I think of that?" variety; rather, it was more like "Why are they DOING that?!"

Thus, I'm officially debuting an "SEO Newbie Mistake" series. Sure, a lot of this is going to be eye-rollingly easy for most of you, but I was surprised at how, as a professional SEO, it's easy to forget that a lot of sites commit some heinous SEO crimes of the most dubious distinction. Well, I discovered a big'un today, and it hits close to home, making me realize that a lot of webmasters and site owners still don't understand what SEO is, how search engines work, or the fact that a lot of the decisions that they make in order to make their users' lives easier actually hurt the website from a ranking standpoint.

Now onto the fun part--example time! Most of you know by now that this season I've started dabbling in triathlons. I've done five this season (two sprints, one Olympic, and one half Ironman), and I'll end my season with another half Ironman in Cancъn, Mexico later this month. For the past several months, I've learned how to swim, bike, and run better. And I couldn't have done it without Herriott Sports Performance, an endurance training facility that focuses specifically on cycling and triathlon training in Seattle (hey, they got me to lose nearly 15 lbs and become better, stronger, faster--the least I could do is give them some decent anchor text).  

When it comes to training, HSP knows their stuff. The owner and founder, Todd Herriott, is a professional cyclist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. (He also has a one-eyed pug. No, that is not a euphemism.) My trainer, Teresa Nelson, is a USAT Level II triathlon coach, a freakishly fast swimmer (she swam for the University of Nevada, Reno, and always yells at me to stop dragging my arms when I swim), and often wins top overall female in local and regional triathlons. She's competing in the Kona World Championships in Hawaii this October. So yeah, Todd and Teresa (and the other trainers at HSP) are pretty hardcore.

Their website, however, is not as bad-ass. I regularly go to the site to login and see my training schedule for the week, and yesterday I was shocked to see that it has committed SEO Newbie Mistake #2...multiple times.

Let me back up for a minute and talk about SEO Newbie Mistake #1, which in turn led to Mistake #2. HSP's website is It's kind of a long, clumsy URL. It took quite a bit of conditioning on my part to consistently type it in correctly. The URL can be a bit tricky to remember/type in/share, which is why SEO Newbie Mistake #1 is not picking a relatively concise, easily constructed domain name. The longer the URL, the harder it can be to type in correctly or share with others.

Also, I recommend, if possible, shying away from consecutive consonants/vowels in the URL. In HSP's case that can potentially be difficult since Todd's company is named after him, and his last name has both a double R and a double T. However, if you can, try to avoid it. Despite my love for all things Matt McGee, I'll use Small Business SEM's website as an example. Their URL is Three s's in a row = me getting a snake slither noise in my head whenever I type out his URL. Plus, I always think I've typed in one 's' too many, so I end up reading the URL over and over again to ensure that I've typed in the correct number.

Lastly, try to work a keyword into your URL. It's not a huge deal, but hey, if you can, why not? It'll get bolded in the search results when someone searches for that term, which should help your result stand out more. Also, if other sites link to you using your domain name as the anchor text, you've already got a built-in keyword pointing to your site. Sure, sites like Etsy and Craigslist don't have "handmade goods" or "classifieds" in their domain name and they're doing just fine, but for a small, local business just starting out, every little factor helps.

The folks at HSP must have realized that they broke SEO Newbie Mistake #1 because yesterday I came across a post on their site titled "New, Shorter Web Site Addresses for HSP." It read:

For too long, you’ve had to suffer through typing in Suffer no more! HSP now works with the following addresses:

The old address still works, but life just got a little easier if you want to use the new ones.

I sat there, dumbfounded, reading and re-reading the message over and over again. HSP decided to provide an alternative, more user-friendly URL...twice. And both of these websites, of course, resolve along with the original URL. Thus, we've got three versions of the exact same website which, obviously, is a problem.

Most of you already know what URL canonicalization is, but for the three of you who don't, it's when you pick a single accessible version of your website. Out of various URL choices, you pick one that you want users to access, link to, and have the search engines rank. In HSP's case, while the following URLs all bring up the same content, they are technically different URLs because, as Matt Cutts puts it, "A web server could return completely different content for all the urls..." (he has a great post on URL canonicalization, so check it out if you'd like to learn more):


All of these versions of the home page can potentially rank in the search engines. They're also exact copies of each other, which can trigger duplicate content issues (Rand does a good job of explaining duplicate content in the search engines and covers what can potentially trigger issues and penalties, and Eric Enge provides some examples of when duplicate content really hurts). And, of course, if you have six different versions of one page, you have six different areas to point links. You're diluting the strength of your page because you're splitting inbound links into six different paths instead of having all of these links point to a single page. It's easier to rank one page that has 5,000 links pointing to it than to rank six identical pages that have these 5,000 links split unevenly among them.

What's the solution? Dust off those 301-redirects, because they're about to spring into action! HSP should pick a singular version of their site. If, say, they decide that they want their domain name to be "", then both and would redirect to Additionally, if HSP wanted all of their pages to be the www version, non-www pages would 301 redirect to their www counterpart. Thus, any links pointing to non-canonical pages will automatically be redirected to the canonical source, and users will instantly be taken to this page when they either type in an old URL or when they click on a link pointing to a non-canonical page. has a handy list of how to create 301 redirects using IIS, ColdFusion, PHP, ASP, ASP.NET, JSP, CGI PERL, and Ruby on Rails. They also outline how to redirect an old domain to a new domain and how to redirect non-www versions to www pages via htaccess redirect.

Hopefully our first two examples of SEO Newbie Mistakes have helped out those of you who weren't aware of these issues and have provided a nice little 101 refresher to the rest of you who already knew about them. I'm sure that Jane, Danny, and Rand will contribute to the SEO Newbie Mistake series in the future, so forgive us for occasionally catering to the less advanced members on SEOmoz. They need some lovin' too, and some of these issues do need to get covered (especially after dipping into Q&A and seeing the large amount of beginner questions and concerns that constantly arise). Stay tuned for the next post in this installment--hopefully by then I will have taught my friends over at HSP some SEO basics. My advice should be worth some free training sessions, right? Or maybe a new time trial bike... :)

published @ September 3, 2008

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